Harmonic convergence
February 16, 2005 10:11 PM   Subscribe

Music advice needed: I've found that I am a total sucker for vocal harmony. Think Beach Boys' "Wouldn't it be nice", Crowded House "Woodface", Simon & Garfunkel, doo wop and barbershop, etc. Are there any modern day, hip equivalents ? My music taste is rather eclectic, so any genre will do.
posted by swordfishtrombones to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest checking out the album "Damnation" by Opeth. "Closure" and "Death Whispered A Lullabye" are two good examples of some of the amazing harmonies found in this album, which is abounds with them. If you dig it, check out the companion album, called "Deliverance". It's really metal but has many acoustic breakdowns which feature some mind-blowingly gorgeous vocal arrangements.
posted by baphomet at 10:21 PM on February 16, 2005

Find The Be-Good Tanyas for a fantastic female vocal trio.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:24 PM on February 16, 2005

The Futureheads song "Danger of the Water."
posted by tweak at 10:26 PM on February 16, 2005

Moxy Fruvous, of course.
posted by Chuckles at 10:34 PM on February 16, 2005

Mr. Bungle's (and much of Mike Patton's work) has some freakish vocal harmonies. In particular, the album "California" has a lot of slightly weird doo-wop style vocals. It's not really anything like the bands you mention above, although whenever I listen to Brian Wilson's "Smile", I am reminded of "California".
posted by thethirdman at 10:35 PM on February 16, 2005

I'll second Moxy Fruvous.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:36 PM on February 16, 2005

The band Low does male-female harmonies as well as anyone in rock (and pretty good melodies too). It's pretty far from doo-wop/barbershop though. Their latest album, The Great Destroyer, just came out last month and is good and pretty varied stylistically.
posted by pitchblende at 10:44 PM on February 16, 2005

Hey now, you can't go wrong with Boyz 2 Men.

motown philly... back again...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:47 PM on February 16, 2005

TV on the Radio.

And I second pitchblende's suggestion.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:50 PM on February 16, 2005

TV on the Radio's cover of Mr. Grieves was the first thing that popped into mind. And Moxy...always Moxy.
posted by amandaudoff at 10:52 PM on February 16, 2005

Une Année Sans Lumiere by The Arcade Fire

Almost anything by Sloan, but especially:
Coax Me and People of the Sky (from the album Twice Removed)
Losing California and Don't You Believe a Word (from the Between the Bridges album)
Money City Maniacs (from the Navy Blues album)
The Good in Everyone (from One Chord to Another)

Almost every Beach Boys album post- Today and pre- Holland are Winners. Key songs for vocals include:
Pet Sounds:
You Still Believe in Me
That's Not Me
God Only Knows

Smiley Smile:
Heroes and Villians
Good Vibrations (of course!)

Wild Honey:
Aren't You Glad

Be Here in the Morning

Sunflower: (my fav Beach Boys album)
Slip on Through
This Whole World
Add Some Music To Your Day (though the lyrics are sooo horrible, the harmonies are among the best the Beach Boys ever recorded)
All I Wanna Do

Surf's Up

Long Promised Road
Feel Flows
'Till I Die
Surf's Up

Carl and the Passions (So Tough)
You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone
Here She Comes

Sail On Sailor
The Trader
posted by Quartermass at 11:00 PM on February 16, 2005

Not to be a broken record, but The Ditty Bops are great female harmony and great showmanship.

In my own band, my favorite thing is harmony - it's great to hear and to sing, It can't happen enough.
posted by OneOliveShort at 11:08 PM on February 16, 2005

Oh my God: The Hollies! In my opinion, the finest vocal harmonies in pop music. So, so fine. Graham Nash's voice is a thing of true beauty.

Also, if you love the Beach Boys, you NEED to check out the groups that Curt Boettcher (singer/producer/mastermind) and/or Gary Usher (producer/songwriter) were involved with, all of which are notable for their remarkable vocal harmonies. Reportedly, Brian Wilson, on hearing one of Boettcher's groups rehearse, stated that he wished he could get the same sound.
- The Association
- Sagittarius
- The Millennium
Sweet mother of mercy, The Millennium are incredible. Pick up the 3-disc collection Magic Time on Sundazed and revel in the harmonic glory.

Let us not also forget The Byrds, especially the David Crosby-era Byrds, specifically The Notorious Byrd Brothers.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:11 PM on February 16, 2005

I used to really dig the Dancehall Crashers back in my ska phase. The vocalists Elyse Rogers and Karina Denike do some really sexy harmonies.
posted by philscience at 11:12 PM on February 16, 2005

Oh, uh, you asked for modern stuff. I guess I should read more carefully. I saw "harmony" and got too excited! You probably know about all my suggestions. Well, in that case, try Gillian Welch, whose harmonies with David Rawlings are beautiful, and the lovely and underrated records by Buddy and Julie Miller (both together and separately).
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:15 PM on February 16, 2005

Oh, uh, you asked for modern stuff.
I'll second that. Sorry. I just freaking love the Beach Boys (and am checking out the Millenium as we speak, thanks Dr. Wu!)

Check out:
Moods For Moderns (Loud and Clear - think Big Star)
uhhh, again 70's - but think Big Star.
posted by Quartermass at 11:33 PM on February 16, 2005

This question pleases me. I love Brian Wilson and Simon and Garfunkel.

I think it's kind of tough to find bands with that kind of consistent focus on good vocal arrangements these days.

The Shins have a few very nice examples of this, aside from being a great retro-pop band in general - check out Saint Simon and The Weird Divide.

Camera Obscura, another indie pop group, have some very nice 50s/60s-esque harmonies and melodies on their album Underachievers Please Try Harder.

Elliott Smith tended to overdub his voice many times to great effect. Check out the track Tomorrow, Tomorrow from his album XO for an excellent example.

The Wrens, more on the indie rock side of the spectrum, almost always have two distinct vocal parts on their (brilliant) album The Meadowlands.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:37 PM on February 16, 2005

Lots of good stuff mentioned here. Some other possibilities (though from the late '90s rather than immediately current) are Myracle Brah (the first record, Life On Planet Eartsnop, is hard to find but well worth every hour and penny you'll have to invest in it!), Cotton Mather (ditto for their record Kon-Tiki -- one of my favorite records ever), and Frisbie (such as The Subversive Sounds of Love). Oh, and also -- what about XTC? Doesn't get much more harmonically blissful than Skylarking or Apple Venus.

A great resource for exactly this kind of harmonic power pop stuff is the Fufkin website -- it's down at the moment for some reason, but it's got great current reviews and a whole "recommendations" section for various related genres.
posted by scody at 11:59 PM on February 16, 2005

Elliott Smith did this very well.

Yes was into this for a while. 90215 and Big Generator have some stuff on it... especially the songs Leave It and Rhythm of Love.

Cry Cry Cry's self-titled album has a lot of great vocal harmony work on it.

Frou Frou's Details is mostly a pop electronica album, but it's got some fabulous vocal layering on a few songs -- Breathe In, Shhh, and Hear Me Out.

You might even want to try some genuine A'cappella. Grab a copy of Best of Collegiate A'cappella - Volume 1. It's a fun mix with some standout arrangements/performances.
posted by weston at 12:00 AM on February 17, 2005

Definitely, and Thingy as well (both bands include Rob Crow).
Perhaps CocoRosie?
posted by kickingtheground at 12:05 AM on February 17, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all, keep those great suggestions coming!

I really dig The Shins, a classic example of what I was looking for. I was only familiar with their most recent one, so I'll check out earlier work too.

60s-70s stuff is fine too, though I have to be in the mood for that. I checked out samples of Opeth and it sounded cool. Always assumed they were some grind-death-metal kind of band. I'll walk over to the CD store tomorrow. I've heard good stories about TV on the Radio before, so I will definitely check them out.

Again, thanks all. This will keep me busy for some time!
posted by swordfishtrombones at 12:26 AM on February 17, 2005

The Jayhawks, especially Tomorrow The Green Grass.
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:45 AM on February 17, 2005

Lots of good suggestions here. In addition to checking out the Fufkin website, you might want to click around Not Lame's website which has tons of 60's inspired pop music. Same goes for CD Baby where I came across this gem by Jason Byrd. Truly Brian Wilson inspired. Also give a listen to The Rooks.

Not exactly current but you might like the two Jellyfish records and former member Jason Falkner's solo music also has lot of great harmonies. Also Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet.

Also check out the Wondermints, who are the current backing band for Brian Wilson. Tons of Beach Boys harmonies.

Although not the lush harmonies you'd get on a Beach Boys record, the Jayhawks have fantastic two part harmonies.

Going back a bit, I would certainly recommend Badfinger. And if you like Beach Boys harmonies and want to go to the source (i.e. where Brian Wilson apparently picked up on it all), check out the Four Freshman.
posted by gfrobe at 1:01 AM on February 17, 2005

I'd say try The Redwalls. I saw them over winter break in Chicago at the Hideaway. Two weird things: 1. They sound like a beatle cover band playing all those obscure songs you've never heard, except they're really playing their own original music. 2. And I think they're really young. Really young. Like it seems like they're still in high school.

But they do have some of that vocal harmony flavor that you're looking for, and c'mon they're SO indie and hip. Check out the website, you can listen to their entire album.
posted by geryon at 1:13 AM on February 17, 2005

Um, eh...Rockapella?

Yeah, ever since they sang for the gameshow, Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego, they became my guilty pleasures.

And I started drinking more Folgers because of them too.
posted by icontemplate at 4:18 AM on February 17, 2005

I really dig The Shins, a classic example of what I was looking for.

In that case, let me be the first to suggest Turin Brakes. Starting points:

Recommended songs:
Pain Killer, Save Me (Underdog)
Album: Ether Song

The modern but storydriven songwriting coupled with the twin lead singers makes for great harmony IMHO.

For that Beach Boys feel also be sure to check out The Thrills (from Ireland, not to be confused with the NYC or Boston Thrills).

Recommended songs: Big Sur, One Horse Town
Album: So Much For The City

It's hard to believe they're from Ireland, as every note seems to breathe that Pacific breeze, if you catch my drift.

On a secondary note, some of these bands (esp. Turin Brakes) tended to be pigeonholed a few years back (in W Europe, at least) under the flag of the "New Acoustic Movement" which, despite being a bad idea, might help you find other great, modern, harmony-driven bands (think Kings Of Convenience, etc). However, some bands that are commonly grouped among this pseudo-movement, such as (heroes of mine) I Am Kloot, are great and acoustic, but not that harmony-driven. Good luck, and lots of fun.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:23 AM on February 17, 2005

Can I just say I love this thread? I'm going to set up a cot in the corner and live here forever.

Okay, so the Delays own the harmony thing. For sweet indie pop, try The Owls, Stars, and perhaps The Essex Green. (The songs "Mrs. Bean" and "The Late Great Cassiopia" should not be missed.) The Fan Modine album "Homeland" has some sweetly harmonic songs. Also worth checking out are the Moonbabies and Animal Collective (for "Winters Love" or "Leaf House," especially about 2 minutes in.) And since you mentioned Simon & Garfunkel, I can't resist the obligatory reference to Kings of Convenience.

Many dittos to the Be Good Tanyas and the Jayhawks on the rootsy end of the spectrum. Also, the Pernice Brothers. And the Hank Dogs have wonderful British folky vocals, if you're into that.

If we're going back to oldies here, the Hollies of course, but also the Zombies and the Left Banke. And if you're looking for the slightly weird (though some might say annoying), the Roches' first album from '79 is an interesting combination of folk, doo-wop, and pop.

On the Crowded House side of things, of course you've got your Finn Brothers ("Disembodied Voices" or "Angels Heap") and their various fellow New Zealanders. I'd say especially seek out The Bats, for "Block of Wood", "Treason", "Smoking Her Wings", et al. Also, The Chills ("Heavenly Pop Hit"), The Go-Betweens (all right, so technically Australian), and any of their jangly ilk.

Oh, and then there's nineties girl rock/pop ala Belly, maybe Dubstar, or Velocity Girl, or Eisley....

Yeah, I could go on forever but this should probably suffice.
posted by quarked at 4:30 AM on February 17, 2005

Ooh. Teenage Fanclub, definitely. Bandwagonesque, for fuzzy guitars, harmonies and songs about drinking and Status Quo; Grand Prix, Songs From Modern Britain and Howdy! for more polished loveliness.

Oh, and shouts out for The Futureheads and The Zombies.
posted by Len at 5:03 AM on February 17, 2005

I'm a sucker for the harmonies too. I'm going to put in my vote for the dandy warhols. Can't vouch for the newest album, but there's some really good poppy, harmony-laden stuff on the first 3.
posted by zombiebunny at 5:22 AM on February 17, 2005

You can tune in online to All A Cappella courtesy of WERS, Emerson College's radio station. They publish their playlists and it's a great show to get exposed to a cappella.
posted by plinth at 5:31 AM on February 17, 2005

Seconding Matthew Sweet here. . . my husband and I were playing 100% Fun just the other day and commenting on the incredible harmonies.
posted by katie at 5:50 AM on February 17, 2005

Kings of Convenience, if you like your Simon & Garfunkel not feelin' quite so groovy.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:54 AM on February 17, 2005

Lots and lots of good suggestions above. Some more: any Beatles-derived band like Fountains of Wayne (Jellyfish was a good call) and the Odds. Ben Folds Five had lots of fun harmonies, although Ben's solo stuff has gotten away from it.

My favorite vocal harmony song of recent years is by a band called TaxiRide (ahh, go find "Get Set"). I don't know much else about them beyond that song, but it's vocal bliss for me.

For a twist on the topic, listen to Alice in Chains, particularly their acoustic EPs. Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell do wickedly eerie vocal layering that is really captivating.
posted by werty at 6:02 AM on February 17, 2005

Second the Dancehall Crashers. They have great harmonies. Almost to the point where all the songs sound the same. But they're worth at least one album purchase.
posted by smackfu at 6:42 AM on February 17, 2005

I'll second Quartermass' recommendation of Sloan, although how he forgot to include "Live On" off of Action Pact is beyond me. Generally, their vocal harmonizations have gotten progressively more complex with each album, so if you're really looking for some richly layered crooning you won't go wrong with Action Pact or Pretty Together.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:44 AM on February 17, 2005

The Indigo Girls have great harmonies. I love their first album.
posted by grateful at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2005

Veterans of This sound a little like Simon and Garfunkel singing indy rock.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:58 AM on February 17, 2005

They're current, I suppose, but not modern. A black group from here in South Africa that I discovered before moving here. Called Ladysmith Black Mambazo, they became famous in the UK when they did a commercial for Heinz.

Oldies you didn't mention and shouldn't miss: Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and America.
posted by Goofyy at 6:59 AM on February 17, 2005

Great Big Sea!
posted by u.n. owen at 7:21 AM on February 17, 2005

Not sure if you'd call them modern, but The Real Group is an astounding a cappella ensemble. I have their album "Unreal" which impresses me every time I hear it.
posted by knave at 7:29 AM on February 17, 2005

The Bobs [profile] have been doing a cappella for about 20 years. They do their own stuff and covers; I like their Sing the Songs of... covers collection, which has their Grammy-nominated version of "Helter Skelter" and a cool version of "You Can't Do That."

The Housemartins have great acapella versions of "People Get Ready," "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," and "Caravan of Love."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:50 AM on February 17, 2005

I second Low, but I would recommend the Trust album and Galaxy 500's This is Our Music both for their slowcore indie harmonies.
posted by safetyfork at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2005

dada was probably my favorite band in high school and most of their songs have harmonies, awesome guitar riffs, and smart lyrics. Here's a review of their latest album, How To Be Found.

Their first album, Puzzle, is the best in my opinion, but maybe that's just nostalgia. They're pretty obscure and only had a couple of radio hits that I've heard. "Dizz Knee Land" from Puzzle, and one song from their self-titled album, "California Gold", from their self-titled album. I did see them years ago at The Edge in Palo Alto, before it shut down only to reopen many years later. I can't recommend this band enough.

Here's the Amazon Listing for all their albums (minus some obscure EPs and singles that I bought overseas), and of course amazon let's you listen to some portion of their songs if you have the requisite players and either broadband or patience for such things. (I have neither.)
posted by cactus at 8:29 AM on February 17, 2005

They've broken up now and gone onto solo careers, but in the early nineties there used to be a great girl Boston duo with beautiful harmonies called "The Story." The duo was Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball, and their albums included "Grace in Gravity" and "The Angel in the House." Standout tracks for vocal harmonies include "In the Gloaming," (scroll down to the samples) "Damn Everything But the Circus," (scroll down to the samples) and "Over Oceans" (same link).
posted by onlyconnect at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2005

Did soneone miss The Blenders? (Flash, annoying title tag).
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:58 AM on February 17, 2005

miranda sex garden. nothing at all like the beach boys, but the first three albums (madra which is madrigals so probably not what you had in mind, iris which is really an EP, and suspiria) are all about the vocal harmonies. basically art-rock by chicks with pretentions of something. they seemed to have stopped recording in the wake of katharine blake's current project

accurate review in horrible red on black lettering; all music discography
posted by crush-onastick at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2005

The Olivia Tremor Control, from Athens GA. They're like the Beach Boys by way of Alice In Wonderland as seen from space, or something. Lots of great vocal harmonies and sunny pop hooks, bobbing in a sea of weird dream imagery and occasionally spooky sound collages. They only did two proper full-lengths: "Dusk At Cubist Castle" and "Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol. 1" that I love about equally. Both were just re-issued on CD last year, so you should have no trouble finding them. Good luck, and enjoy.
posted by BoringPostcards at 9:56 AM on February 17, 2005

This is neither modern nor hip, but... you need some Todd Rundgren, particularly his solo A Cappella. I also recommend his Utopia stuff, a shining example of which is POV -- quite possibly my favorite pop/rock album of the '80s. Oh, the choruses on some of those songs... Also Utopia's Deface the Music if you like the Beatles. The Tubes, who Rundgren produced -- Remote Control basically sounds like a Utopia record with more people on it, and besides, how can you go wrong with a band that has a guy in it named Fee Waybill?
posted by kindall at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2005

I'd heard Los Lonely Boys' hit 'Heaven', but only when I saw a commercial for their album did I realize that the album is full of beautiful harmonies.
posted by DandyRandy at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2005

Check out a group called Cadence. They're an a cappella quartet, and their first CD, Frost Free, is absolutely brilliant.

Other mostly a cappella goodness would be New York Voices and The Idea of North.

For a rock band with good vocal harmonies, you might enjoy The Grays.
posted by Buzz at 11:20 AM on February 17, 2005

...and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention America's Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, The Kinsey Sicks.
posted by Buzz at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2005

Aptly Titled:

Of Montreal - Spoonful of Sugar [mp3]
posted by idontlikewords at 12:26 PM on February 17, 2005

As far as I'm concerned, there should be a picture of Les Swingle Singers in the dictionary under "harmony".
posted by hellbient at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2005

Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares is an excellent Bulgarian a cappella Women's group.

They definitely do not sing babershop, but the harmonies they sing are incredible. Very close, one voice sounding stuff.

If you like their sound and want to hear some non-traditional use of the human voice, you can get them singing with a Tuvan group. If you know what Zen monk chanting sounds like, that's what is basically is (along with the pitch-perfect choir).
posted by easyasy3k at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2005

Wailin' Jennys

Anonymous 4
posted by Feisty at 5:24 PM on February 21, 2005

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